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Small businesses finding solutions amid recession

Firms are boosting customer service and rethinking their business models and products to survive and even grow.

January 26, 2009|Cyndia Zwahlen

Uniform designer and manufacturer Barco Uniforms, which was started by Donner's grandfather in 1929, is also looking to thrive in tough times.

The business owner's action plan includes using lean business management practices to become more competitive, a focus on creating breakthrough products and inspiring confidence in employees.

"In response to the recession challenge, we are kind of reinventing our business model," said Donner, whose firm serves the medical community, as well as corporate clients including the major fast-food restaurant chains.

Barco also has a long history of supplying uniforms to Hollywood, he said, including television's "Dr. Kildare," the movie "Patch Adams" and, more recently, "Seven Pounds."

The company also outfits the medical personnel of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and last year released its first Grey's Anatomy Professional Wear by Barco collection. The collection -- which includes T-shirts decorated with the show's signature "Seriously?" -- also uses new fabrications with moisture-wicking properties found more often in active sportswear.

"It was my stimulus package for my customers in '08 and it will be a stimulus package in '09 plus other remarkable things that hopefully will be successful," Donner said.

In April, Barco plans to feature in its fall catalog a colorful new collection to be manufactured under a license from Crayola. Trend research shows that bright colors are popular during hard times, said Iris Amano, Barco's director of marketing and multimedia.

It's all part of Donner's determination to deliver "remarkable" products that generate customer excitement and sales, a strategy he is accelerating for 2009, a year he expects sales growth to hit double digits.

"It's difficult to do," Donner said. But "when you are remarkable in a recessionary time, you do it well, you pull it off, then you can grow your business as a result."

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cyndia.zwahlen@latimes.com

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